State leader hears from Friends and National Park Service about accessibility projects

Coastal management and accessibility projects were on the agenda, as Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore participated in discussions with Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) Secretary-designee Kathy Blumenfeld.

The Secretary met on June 29th with representatives from the Ashland, Bayfield and Red Cliff communities in Northwest Wisconsin, as well as six organizations and community groups providing housing, coastal management and conservation services in Ashland and Bayfield counties.

In Bayfield, the Secretary met with City of Bayfield staff, former Bayfield mayor and chair of the Coastal Management Council Larry MacDonald, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore park superintendent Lynne Dominy, and several stakeholders from the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Landmark Conservancy, to discuss ongoing public access and coastal management projects. The city recently completed a Waterfront Walk project which received Wisconsin Coastal Management Program funding.  

(L-R: James Yach, DNR; Kathy Blumenfeld, DOA; Billie Hoopman, City of Bayfield; Jeffrey Rennicke, Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; Julie Van Stappen, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore;  Lynne Dominy, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore)  – News Release photo

Bayfield County experienced a 22% increase in tourism spending in 2021 while Ashland County experienced a 19% increase. reflecting the impact from Governor Tony Evers’ focus and investment to support tourism. “We don’t feel left out,” said Erica Peterson, Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore board member.

“What an incredible opportunity to see the impact of state investment and community partnerships and collaboration firsthand, across Northwestern Wisconsin,” said DOA Secretary-designee Kathy Blumenfeld in a news release. “We’re so proud to support ongoing efforts to help the crown jewel of our state to continue to rebuild and thrive.”

Friends volunteers tend historical gardens

Imagine tending something that is 112 years old. Three volunteers (limited due to COVID safety protocols) recently joined two National Park Service rangers with shovels and watering cans to tend the gardens at Michigan Island.

Flowers bloom in front of the old Michigan Island Lighthouse – Erica Peterson photo

“We are the keepers of the light” is a tune often sung at Big Top Chautauqua. Michigan Light was first built in 1856. Lighthouse families there kept gardens to supplement both their food and leisure life. Volunteers from Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore helped the park restore the 16 garden beds in 2016 and continue to tend them each spring.

“Last year we transplanted dozens of narcissus discovered along the edge of the forest and placed them in the beds,” said Erica Peterson, one of the volunteers and Friends board member. “They were a joy to see when we returned this year; all had survived and were in full bloom.”  The volunteers have also discovered bachelor buttons and columbine, presumed escapees from years past. Each year they add new plants or divide ones that are thriving. 

The original flower beds and some of the remaining plants most likely were planted by Elizabeth Lane. She and her husband Ed tended the light station from 1902 to 1938. Photos of her garden in 1910-15 helped “Friends” and the park choose appropriate plants that mimicked the landscaping in the photos as much as possible. 

Coast Guard Chief Walter Parker, who knew the Lanes, said of Elizabeth, “How she used to love to get up to that island and get at that garden of hers. That whole station was one mass of flowers.”

Today volunteers and returning visitors feel the same. Snapdragons, panzy and petunias grace the raised flower beds lined by white painted rocks. Foxglove, lavender, sunflowers, black-eyed Susan, iris, daisies, hydrangea, and lilies lend color all season long.

Elizabeth was known as a superb gardener. “I wonder if she ever imagined her garden would still be here,” says Peterson. 

Both the 1856 and 1929 lighthouses are open seasonally for visitation. Stroll through the gardens, play a game of croquette and you’ll simultaneously feel a connection to the past. It cannot be helped. Or add your name to the Friends volunteer list and join us another year.

What Friends are for: Watch our new video introduction

What is a Friends group? How do they help our national parks? How many are there? Good questions. 

Of the 423 units managed by the National Park Service, over half have supporting partner organizations or “Friends” groups. From Friends of Acadia to Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Friends of Virgin Islands, these groups support their parks in a diverse array of ways – from fundraising for the preservation of historic structures to organizing cadres of volunteers to plant gardens, clear trails, even pick up litter. Each year, the efforts of these combined groups contribute over $400 million in direct and in-kind support to our national parks and focus the efforts of over 100,000 volunteers.

With our four pillars of Accessibility, Education, Service, and Stewardship, Friends of the Apostle Islands, founded in 2002, has raised over $600,000 to support the efforts of the staff of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore helping with everything from the installation of bear boxes to keep both campers and wildlife safe to purchasing the Junior Ranger badges that thrill youngsters every year inspiring a whole new generation of park supporters. Our volunteers plant beach grass to stabilize fragile sandscapes and help raise money to support the park in important accessibility initiatives that make the Apostles more welcoming to everyone. 

“Its like that old Beatles song,” Executive Director Jeff Rennicke says, “our park ‘gets by’ and gets better with a little help from Friends.”

To learn more about these islands and the work of Friends of the Apostle Islands, watch our new five-minute video highlighting our efforts. And then join us. After all, like the song says, we all need a little help from our Friends.

Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.

Attention paddlers and boaters: the buoys are back!

“The lake is the boss” and “know before you go” are literally words to live by when kayaking in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Before your next paddling or boating adventure, it pays to learn as much as you can about the weather forecast and wave conditions. Lake Superior can be glass-calm in one instant and a short time later you might face three-foot waves from a fast-moving storm. The islands themselves influence wind and wave patterns every day and the cold water presents and ever-present risk of hypothermia. That’s why proper gear, training and forecast knowledge are so important.

To help you make smart decisions, you can now get real-time wave and weather information from a growing constellation of buoys strategically positioned in and near the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

On June 9th, crews deployed eight spotter buoys at key locations. Chin Wu, project leader and a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says those locations include Little Sand Bay, Little Manitou Island, Big Bay on Madeline Island, Long Island, Saxon Harbor, and three locations established last year: Siskiwit Bay near Cornucopia, the mainland sea caves, and on the southeast side of Stockton Island. There is no longer a buoy near Devils Island as there was in 2021.

Screen shot from

The buoys provide real-time wave height, wind and temperature information. That data is used to provide wave forecasts for key locations in and around the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Josh Anderson, assistant scientist at UW-Madison’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering said the buoy that was in Chequamegon Bay last year will not be part of WISC-Watch this year because it was associated with a different project, which is complete.

The Sand Bay buoy to is now closer to Little Sand Bay. The Stockton Island buoy was moved from the more sheltered Julian Bay to just off the Presque Isle Peninsula so that it’s exposed to more waves.

“I compared the data from the buoys last year to our wave model,” Anderson said in a news release. “The model was accurate at five of the seven locations. After we collect a couple more years of data in more areas of the Apostles, that will help make the wave model more accurate. The winds are the problem. All the wind fields that we use to drive the wave models don’t reflect all the funneling of the wind through the island channels. We’re working on that.”

Click on one of the buoy icons to get specific wave information like this.

You can track conditions and wave forecasts for these locations at the WISC-Watch website; the acronym stands for Water Information for a Safe Coast Watch. 

You can also see timely web cam photographs overlooking the mainland sea caves.

Perfect paddling conditions at the mainland sea caves.

If you’ve used the WISC-Watch buoy information online, the team would like to know what you think. Adults can take a 15-minute public survey ( ) as the team works on the best ways to communicate real-time wave information.

The WISC-Watch Project, now in its second season, is funded by the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, Wisconsin Sea Grant and the UW-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Other project partners include the National Park Service, the National Weather Service in Duluth, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the cities of Bayfield and Ashland, Northland College, the Lake Superior Nearshore Working Group, the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and local outfitters.

Make a Friends membership part of your trip planning for your Apostle Islands adventures

Camping Permit? Check.

Life Jackets? Check.

Friends of the Apostle Islands Membership? 

Launching an adventure into the Apostle Islands takes planning and all the right gear. Your membership with Friends can be an important part of it. Here’s why.

Singing sand beaches, the whisper of waves against the shoreline, island nights strung with stars against velvety black skies, campfire stories of lighthouse keepers, shipwrecks, and strings of deer tracks on a sunrise trail.

You are going to fall in love with the Apostle Islands, or if you’ve been here before, deepen your love and appreciation of this place. And, as has been said, we only protect and support those places we love. That’s where Friends comes in.  

Joining or renewing your Friends membership today will help:

  • Make your park more accessible to everyone through boardwalks on Sand Island, a more accessible stairway/ramp at Meyers Beach, and an amphitheater for all on Stockton Island.
  • Support volunteers like you who tend the historic lighthouse gardens.
  • Send kids sailing, kayaking, and creating art through our support of outdoor education programs in the islands.
  • Build on our pillars of Education, Accessibility, Service, and Stewardship.

So be prepared. Pack your GPS, the right sleeping bag, and your trail maps. Then join us at Friends, the official philanthropic partner of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Together we can enjoy, protect, preserve, and teach others about the place we all love: the Apostle Islands.

Join us or renew your membership today. 

Act now and you can say: Friends of the Apostle Islands membership? Check.

If you wish to donate by sending us a check by mail, please download this form and include it with your check.

We welcome business memberships too!

All our supporting contributors will receive our newsletter, E-Blasts, notification of special events, and the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping to support the beautiful islands that we all love. 

Thank you in advance for your donation.

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A few quiet words on silence

Shhh. Just listen a moment. It is early, before the sun has even broken the horizon this soft summer morning. The lake is still, rising and falling as softly as the breath of someone sleeping. The sound of dripping water inside a shoreline cave along the north side of Oak Island, like the gentle pluck of harp strings. 

This is morning in the Apostle Islands. This is natural silence.

Silence before sunrise
Morning in the Apostle Islands – Jeff Rennicke photo

When we speak of the value of nature, it is often natural resources we speak of – timber, oil and gas, fisheries, stone from quarries. Even in discussions of national parks it is often visitation numbers or the impact on local economies that grab the headlines. But underneath it all, if you slow down and listen closely, there is silence.

As much as timber or oil or the dollars spent by visitors, silence on a morning like this one is a natural resource and, in the long run, a resource perhaps more valuable to the human soul. Yet, like too many other natural resources, it too is becoming scarce.

Urban noise levels have been doubling every ten years. Traffic, both on the road and in the sky, has tripled in the last ten years adding to the din. Some places have gotten so loud that researchers have documented a shift in bird behavior with some species singing earlier in the morning before the day begins or singing with more volume to try to get attention. Noise has been documented to be detrimental to many species of wildlife – whales that get frightened and confused by high pitched underwater sounds causing them to beach themselves, the heart rates of bears increasing during hibernation in reaction to the thud and boom of seismic testing even a half mile away. 

It would be foolhardy to believe that we as humans are somehow immune to noise. Continuous loud noise has been proven to elevate heart rates and stress in humans. We are hard-wired to be on alert in the city. One study showed that when participants view nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love light up. But when urban scenes are viewed, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety are activated.

It would not be news to most of us to be told that our environment can increase or reduce stress, which in turn impacts our bodies. What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.

Sun in a yellow sky
It seems like you could hear the sun itself rising – Jeff Rennicke photo

Perhaps that is why the natural silence of our parks is so important a resource. Time in nature has been proven to lower stress and encourage relaxation and calm. Bird song can add to a sense of happiness and connection leading to positive emotions of belonging and community. Over 72% of Americans say experiencing the natural peace of nature is valuable and important to their lives, and an important resource to be protected in our national parks. There needs to be some places that are quiet, some mornings when you can hear your own heartbeat and the brushing of wings overhead.

Morning just like this, when the only sounds are the soft shushing of the lake and a few scattered notes of birdsong, a morning so quiet it seems like you could hear the sun itself rising just now out of the water on the horizon. 

For more information on the efforts of the National Park Service to preserve the natural soundscapes of our park, go to

Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.

In Memoriam: Walt Pomeroy

Friends, and all who loved the Apostle Islands, lost a guiding light when board member Walt Pomeroy passed away on Tuesday, May 24th surrounded by his family including Lin, his wife of 43 years. Walt’s wisdom, guidance and unending ideas have been critical to the growth of Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and a myriad of other environmental organizations he worked with. The staff, board members, and volunteers of Friends send our most sincere condolences to his family and many friends. He will be missed and remembered.

A ceremony will be held on Saturday, July 16 at Silver Spring Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. The family has asked that notes and condolences be directed through the Caring Bridge website (

Because of Walt’s love of the Apostle Islands, the Pomeroy family has graciously chosen Friends as the recipient of memorial donations in his honor. Click below to make a gift to the memorial fund.

Donate now with a debit card or credit card
or with PayPal

If you prefer to donate through the mail, download and print a donation form. It’s a PDF file (the free Adobe Acrobat Reader or similar software is required.)

Please fill out the form, make a note that your donation is for the Walt Pomeroy Memorial and make your check made out to ​Friends of the Apostle Islands. Mail to:​ Friends of the Apostle Islands, PO Box 1574, Bayfield, WI 54814.

Round Up for Friends this June at the Chequamegon Food Co-op

Do you want to eat healthy and support Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore? It’s as easy as saying “Round up for Friends” at the checkout counter any time during the month of  June at Ashland’s Chequamegon Food Co-op.

“Round Up for Partners” is a program that gives shoppers the option to “round up” to the next whole dollar (or more) on purchases made at the co-op. The proceeds from that rounding up are then donated to that month’s featured nonprofit organization to serve our community. 

June is “Round Up for Friends of the Apostle Islands” month.

Since the Round Up for Partners donation program was started in Spring of 2020, the Chequamegon Co-op has raised more than $26,000 for local causes.

Donations made to Friends of the Apostle Islands in June’s Round Up program will go specifically to our Access for All efforts to help support the National Park Service in its continuing efforts to make our park accessible to everyone by providing accessible ramps, campsites, boardwalks, picnic areas, and more. Our parks belong to everyone, including the 1-5 Americans challenged every day with mobility issues. 

Accessible beach ramp at Little Sand Bay
Accessible beach ramp at Little Sand Bay
Accessible Boardwalk
Accessible boardwalk

You can help simply by visiting the Chequamegon Food Co-op at 700 Main Street West in Ashland, WI any time during the month of June and saying “Round Up for Friends” at the checkout.

For more on our efforts to support the accessibility initiatives of the park, click on the accessibility page on our website.

Stronger together: The Lake Superior Summit

As remote and out of the way as some of our national parks can feel at times, the old adage still holds true: we are stronger together.

In that spirit, a wide-ranging group of park superintendents and park partners staff came together for the Lake Superior Summit hosted by the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation, the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, and the National Park Service. The gathering included representatives from Isle Royale National Park, Voyageurs National Park, Pipestone National Monument, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Grand Portage National Monument, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Support groups and park partners represented included Friends of the Apostle Islands, National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation, the National Parks Conservation Association, Pipestone Indian Shrine Association, Mississippi Park Connection, the Wild Rivers Conservancy, and others.

“While our parks are spread out over the whole region,” said Jeff Rennicke, Executive Director of Friends of the Apostle Islands, “there are many threads of issues, concerns, and planning needs shared by all the parks and partners – from climate change to the difficulties in providing affordable staff housing. By coming together, we begin to weave those shared threads into lifelines to the future.” 

The three-day gathering, held at the Legendary Waters Resort in Red Cliff, Wisconsin and kicked off with a welcome from Tribal Chairman Chris Boyd, included presentations on subjects such as current funding needs and sources, decarbonizing Lake Superior national parks, the use of silviculture in mitigating the effects of climate shifts, hiring and employee retention issues, Equity and Inclusion in park programming, and more.

In addition, the National Park Service provided a day-long tour of Little Sand Bay, Sand Island and the Raspberry Island Lighthouse aboard the park boat Phoenix. The day was meant tohighlight the cooperative accessibility efforts of Friends of the Apostle Islands and the National Park Service. Under a sky as blue as the lake, the islands gleamed like the gems that they are for the tour highlighting both the progress that has been made and the opportunities ahead in this park and on Lake Superior.

“Each of our parks face many challenges,” Jeff Rennicke says of the conference. “Facing those challenges will require vision, creativity, and cooperation. Alone, so many of these issues can seem overwhelming and daunting. But by working together we can create a bright future for all of Lake Superior’s parks. Thank you to the sponsors, hosts, the park staff, and the representatives of all the parks and park partners for coming together and making us all just a little stronger.”

Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.

Change begins here: Friends represented at the Leadership Institute

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world,” Margaret Mead once famously said. “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

From April 24th to the 27th, our Executive Director Jeff Rennicke joined a small group of thoughtful, concerned leaders from Friends groups across the country at the first in-person gathering of the 2022-23 Leadership Institute in Portland, Oregon. Representatives from Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Virgin Islands, Acadia, Shenendoah, and Cabrillo National Moment were also in attendance.  

A program of the National Park Foundation, the Leadership Institute is an intensive 15-month course that helps to identify and groom leaders within the national park partner organizations. It combines broad philosophical discussions about the role and meaning of leadership with a detailed, hands-on approach to the work being done by Friends organizations and their parks. 

“Today the relationships between national parks and their Friends groups, as well as the issues they face together, are deeply complicated,” says Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke. “It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day details. This program allows us to talk through the details of the daily issues but also encourages us to ‘get on the balcony.’” The “Balcony” is a reference to the work of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky called Adaptive Leadership  which urges leaders to “get off the dance floor and .. to the balcony” on occasion to take the long view of their actions as well. 

Other topics throughout the three-day session included establishing and maintaining trust between an organization and its park, its board, and its members, the difference between “outcomes” and “process” issues, identifying “core values” in an organization, and the power of strategic storytelling. In addition, a large part of the session was devoted to “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” training, an important issue facing both the national parks and many organizations across the country. Guest speakers included Roey Thorpe (a social justice activist who has served as the Director of Advocacy Programs for the Equality Federation) and Greg Wolley (the principal consultant of Creating Tomorrow’s Workforce, and the co-founder of the African American Outdoor Association). 

Felicia Tripp Folsom, conference facilitator
Greg Wolley at Leadership Institute
Greg Wolley, African American Outdoor Association

The year-long Institute will continue with monthly online meetings, assignments, guest speakers, and will culminate in March 2023 at the annual conference of the Friends Alliance and the National Park Foundation. 

“The Apostle Islands can sometimes seem set apart from the rest of the world,” Rennicke says, “but the Leadership Institute is a reminder that we are all connected, we all face some of the same challenges and opportunities, and that together we can forge solutions that work for all of us.” 

Generous donations from board members and supporters of Friends, as well as a scholarship from the National Park Foundation “Strong Parks, Strong Communities” fund, will cover all the associated costs of the program allowing Friends to take advantage of this important opportunity and continue to support their programs and projects in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.